Homosexuality in Indonesia

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Homosexuality in Indonesia is generally considered a taboo subject by both Indonesian civil society and the government. Public discussion of homosexuality in Indonesia has been inhibited by the fact that human sexuality in any form is rarely discussed or depicted openly. Traditional religious mores tend to disapprove of homosexuality and cross-dressing.

In Indonesia, where religion plays a dominant role in society, and where almost 90 percent of the population are Muslim, homosexuality is not punishable by national law, but condemnation of homosexuality has been voiced by many religious leaders, not only Islamic.[1] The national criminal code does not prohibit cross-dressing or adult, non-commercial and consensual homosexual conduct between consenting adults, although it does contain a higher age of consent for same-sex sexual conduct, and there are some reports that police have sometimes harassed gay or transgender people using vaguely worded public indecency laws. At the local level, gay or transgender Muslims can be fined or imprisoned under provincial laws against homosexuality and cross-dressing. Indonesia's northwesternmost province of Aceh for example, has a sharia-based anti-homosexuality law that punishes anyone caught having gay sex with 100 lashes.[2]

Beyond the national and provincial laws, overt violence against gay or transgender people, by civilians, is still rare. Generally, such violent intolerance is restricted to members of religious vigilant groups such as the radical Islamist groups.[3]

The general public is becoming more aware of existence of gay and transgender people through greater press and media content, but this has not necessarily led to greater tolerance. In particular, there have been more depictions and discussions of homosexuality in the Indonesian news media, also depictions of gay lifestyles in Indonesian television and films.[4] Indonesia does have a reputation as being a relatively moderate and tolerant Muslim nation, however the recent survey revealed that intolerance of minorities is growing, with the highest level of hostility directed at the gay and lesbian community. The Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) found in its most recent poll conducted in 2012 that a staggering 80.6 percent of its sample population objected to having gays or lesbians as neighbors. The figure has jumped significantly from 64.7 percent in 2005.[5]

In recent years, LGBT people in Indonesia are facing growing hostility and intolerance. In early 2016, LGBT people and activist in Indonesia are facing fierce opposition and attacks of homophobia and hate speech, even launched by Indonesian authorities.[6]

Coming out to family and friends is seldom carried out by LGBT people in Indonesia, as they are more afraid of rejection and social backlash. Nevertheless, there are some rare examples of understanding and acceptance of the family of LGBT person.[7]

Public view[edit]

In Indonesian culture sexuality in any form is considered taboo subject and often immediately judged as obscenity. Sexuality, let alone homosexuality, issues considered a very private matter that must be confined only within bedrooms. In Indonesian culture the malu (shame) culture is prevalent. Indonesian people are generally tolerant towards homosexuals but prefer not to talk about it because of the strong culture of malu in Indonesian.[3] Waria, the male to female cross dressers for a long time have played their parts in Indonesian culture. Numerous Indonesian traditional performances such as lenong and ketoprak often featuring transsexuals as an object of jest, humor and ridicule. While ludruk drama and lengger lanang dance performance featuring male cross dresser as female dancer. Even today, gay and transsexuals can be found performing in Indonesian television and entertainment industry. In Indonesian view, it is quite acceptable to have transsexual or cross dresser entertainers or public figures. It is usually considered as a funny thing, unless it were to happen in their own family where having effeminate sons are often considered as a disgrace to the family.[7]

Opposition against homosexuality[edit]

Traditionally Indonesians are quite tolerant towards LGBT people, as long as they keep quiet and stay discreet about their private live.[3] However, this level of tolerance is not extended towards LGBT rights movements, which recently faces fierce condemnation launched by Indonesian authorities and extended to public sphere. The anti-LGBT rhetoric began in January 2016 when Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir said LGBT people should be barred from university campuses.[6]

The national broadcasting commission emphasize a policy banning TV and radio programs that make LGBT behavior appear "normal", saying this was to protect children and teenagers who are "susceptible to duplicating deviant LGBT behaviors". The Indonesia Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism as mental disorders. Some even went to conspiracy theory rhetoric; Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu called the LGBT movement a "proxy war" to brainwash Indonesians, that received "foreign funding",[6] while pointing out funds from United Nations organizations like UNAIDS or Western governments and foundations.

There have been a few incidents of LGBT people being harassed. LGBT groups are now working to set up safehouses and draw up evacuation plans in case of need. In Yogyakarta, in February 2016, 23 LGBT activists were roughed up by police, who told local media they stopped them from holding a rally to avoid a clash with a hardline Muslim group holding an anti-LGBT protest nearby.[6]

In February 2016, the public discourse and debates on homosexuality and LGBT issues has intensified with the occurrence of high-profile cases of alleged homosexual misconducts, involving Indonesian celebrities. First, an accusation of sexual approach and harassment done by TV personality Indra Bekti upon several men. Followed by the case of dangdut singer Saiful Jamil, who has been named a suspect in a sexual assault involving an underage male fan.[8]

On the other hand, amids fierce hostilities, some officials have defended the LGBT community - including Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan. "Whoever they are, wherever they work, he or she continues to be an Indonesian citizen. They have the right to be protected as well," Pandjaitan said.[6]


Because of the culture of shame attached to homosexuality, homosexual activity is rarely recorded in Indonesian history. Unlike in other Asian cultures such as Indian, Chinese or Japanese, homosexual erotica in paintings or sculptures are almost nonexistent in Indonesian arts. Homosexuality is almost never recorded nor depicted in Indonesian history. A rare exceptions is the 18th-century account of alleged homosexuality of Arya Purbaya, an official in Mataram court, although it is not clear whether it was actually based on truth or a vicious rumors to disgraced him.[citation needed]

The Javanese book Serat Centhini composed and published circa 1814 in Surakarta, mentioned several account of bisexuality and homosexuality practice in Javanese society. Story in this book which took place circa 1630, mentions that one of the main character, Mas Cabolang and his attendants encountered homosexual couple the Jathilan dancers in Ponorogo region. Mas Cabolang and one of his handsome attendant encountered more sexual experience with women as well with the jathils men. There are also an incident where he and Nurwitri, one of his handsome and effeminate entourage, encountered a homosexual affair with the regent of Wirosobo.[9]

Although waria, male to female transgender performers and prostitutes have long played their role in Indonesian culture, the Indonesian gay men and lesbian women homosexual identity has only been recently identified, mainly through identification with their western counterparts through film, television, and media. Prior to Suharto's New Order regime local Indonesian culture of gay and lesbi did not exist.[10]

The gay and lesbian movement in Indonesia is one of the oldest and largest in Southeast Asia.[11] Indonesian gay right activism began since 1982 when the first gay rights interest group was established in Indonesia. The "Lambda Indonesia" and other similar organizations arose in the late 1980s and 1990s.[12] Today, some of the major LGBT associations in the nation include "Gaya Nusantara" and "Arus Pelangi". There are now over thirty LGBT groups in Indonesia.[13]

Yogyakarta, Indonesia, hosted a 2006 summit on LGBT rights that produced the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.[14] However, a summit in March 2010 in Surabaya was met with condemnation from the Indonesian Ulema Council and was disrupted by conservative protesters.[15]


Although the subjects of homosexuality are considered as a shame and people often refuse to discuss it in public, some culture and traditions in Indonesia records same sex relationships and activities, or LGBT behaviors.

Bissu, Calabai and Calalai[edit]

The Bugis people of South Sulawesi divide their society into five separate genders. Two are analogous to cisgender male (oroané) and female (makkunrai), and the remaining three are bissu, calabai and calalai. A bissu refer to a person with all aspects of genders combined to form a whole. A calabai is a 'false woman', they are generally physically male but take on the role of a heterosexual female. On the other hand, calalai is a person who is assigned female at birth but takes on the roles of a heterosexual male in the society. Calabai shares similarities with, yet is not identical to, effeminate gay men and the kathoeys of Thailand, while calalai is quite similar to butch lesbians.[16]

Warok and Gemblakan[edit]

A particular traditional homosexual relations could be found in East Javanese Warok-Gemblak relations. Waroks are traditional Javanese local hero or "strong men" that usually perform traditional arts such as Reog Ponorogo. According to tradition, warok is required to be abstinent, he is prohibited to indulge and be involved in sexual relationship with women, yet having sex with boy age eight to fifteen is allowed. The boy lover is called Gemblak and usually kept by Warok in their household under the agreement and compensation to the boy's family. Warok can be married with a woman as their wive, but they may kept a gemblak too. This led to Warok-Gemblakan relationship that similar to pederastic tradition of ancient Greece. Anybody who is in touch with the traditional way of life in Ponorogo, knows that there are these older men called warok who, instead of having sex with their wives, have sex with younger boys.[17] What Warok and Gemblak did is homosexual act, yet they never identify themself as homosexuals.

Today this Warok-Gemblakan practice is discouraged by local religious authorities and being shunned through public moral opposition. As the result today Reog Ponorogo performance rarely features Gemblak boys to perform as Jatil horsemen, their position were replaced by girls. Although today this practice might probably still survive and done in discreet manner.

Lengger lanang[edit]

Lengger lanang (Javanese: for male lengger dancer) is an effeminate male that dances the traditional lengger dance and performs the role as a woman. Lengger dance is the Banyumas' counterpart of Javanese ronggeng dance. According to local Banyumas tradition, it can be performed either by women or a man dressed and dancing as a woman. The behavior involved in the lengger lanang tradition is somewhat reminiscent of transsexuality and cross-dressing behavior. A male lengger dancer would wear traditional female Javanese dance attire, which includes konde (hair bun), kain batik, kemben (torso wrap) or kebaya, selendang (sash), kembang goyang hair jewelry, all in full make up, and they will dance as graceful and glamorous as a woman. According to Javanese beliefs, the lengger idhang (spirit) might be incarnated into a girl or a boy, which would make them a talented and famous lengger dancer.[18] This belief is somewhat the remnant of Javanese Hindu-Buddhist legacy that believe in nitis (reincarnation) cycle. This belief is often used to explain why the effeminate boy is born that way. Just like their female lengger and ronggeng counterpart, a famous male lengger dancer would also become the local celebrity, as the object of admiration, affection, even coveted by men eager to court and date him. In the past, some rich and powerful men might recruit him as a mistress. Because of prevalent culture of shame regarding sexuality, any sexual encounters or emotional relations would be done in such discreet manner.

Papuan boy-inseminating rites[edit]

The ritualized "homosexuality" as the rite of passage from boy to adult men has been recorded being practiced among Melanesian people of New Guinea, such as the Sambia and Etoro people of Papua New Guinea.[19] On Indonesian side of New Guinea, similar rituals has been recorded practiced among Kimam people, Southern Papua province, Indonesia. Some record report similar practice among other tribes. The practice is age-structured and directed toward young boys as the rite of passage. According to their belief, a boy is contaminated with female elements through breast feeding and contacts with his mother and female family members. To avoid further female contamination, after certain age, young boys were taken from their mothers and lived separately in communal house with other boys and unmarried men. The separate boys boarding house was to provide male bonding among tribesmen as well to prepare the young boys to be a proper warrior. To be properly developed as a masculine man, thus a brave warrior, a young boy must ingest semen that regarded as male essence. The ingestion itself could be in form of fellatio or homosexual anal intercourse. The inseminator is the older member of the tribes, usually their uncle, the father or older brother of the boy's future wife. The ritual ceased when the boy reach adulthood, when he began to develop beard and get married.

LGBT in Indonesia[edit]

In Indonesia, effeminate male homosexual or male-to-female transsexual are called banci, bencong or waria (Indonesian: wanita-pria lit: female-male). While lesbians are called lesbi or lines. A rather straight-acting gay male are rarely identified, but if discovered usually they are called homo or gay, while the male homosexual prostitutes are called kucing (lit: cat). Those terms; banci, bencong, kucing and homo does have derogatory meanings, except for waria, gay and lesbian that gained neutral perception. Name calling and gay bashing usually occur during teenages years, but rarely involved physical abuse and mainly verbals.[7]

Like in other countries, stereotype of homosexuals occurs quite commonly in Indonesia. Such as they usually took certain line of works such as beauty salon owner or worker, beauticians, make-up artist, to traveling cross-dresser ngamen (street musician) to lewd activities such as a transsexual prostitute. The less effeminate male homosexuals however, are hard to detect and often blend in society.

In traditional Indonesian culture, when a boy or a girl reach puberty, the relations between teenage boys and girls are limited. Traditional mores — especially in villages and rural area — disapprove the teenage courtship, as they may lead to premarital sex. Traditional mores also frowned upon the mixing between unmarried women and men, as they could led to scandalous fornication. Male bonding and close friendship however, are encouraged. The homoerotic experiences or even homosexual incidents might take place within all male environment, such as asrama or pondok (boarding school, in both religious or secular schools), kost (monthly rent room usually for university students or workers), to military barrack and prison. There are some reports of homosexual incident within these places, however given the pervasive culture of shame, these incidents are often immediately covered as it might stained the reputation of those institutions.

Waria, male to female transgender ritualists, performers and prostitutes, have long played a role in local Indonesian cultures, gay and lesbi did not exist as subject positions before the New Order period, when men and women came to recognise themselves in fleeting depictions of mostly foreign homosexuals and reached the conclusion that a 'gay world' could exist in Indonesia, too.[10] For gay men, this world resides in sites ranging from parks to discos, spas and massage parlors to private residences, 'open' places where men seeking romance and companionship, as well as sex, can congregate at certain times of the day or night. The world of lesbi women, who socialise at home, is differently configured; heterogendered relationships predominate, with a new, waria-like category of persons known as tomboi or hunters (butch lesbian) pairing up with feminine women. The contrast between gays and lesbis reflects the juxtaposition of parallel cultural worlds: if gay men can congregate in parks - and even in their parents' households - relatively unnoticed and unimpeded, this is due in good part to their adherence to a nationally pervasive gender ideology that limits young women's movements, valorises male friendships and frowns upon social mixing between unmarried women and men.[10]

For quite some times, the waria or transsexuals has created a distinct sub-culture in Indonesian social fabrics. Often congregating in beauty salons and prevalent in Indonesian entertainment business, the waria's sub-culture has created their own language, the Bahasa Binan, that often influenced Indonesian hip dialects among youngsters.

The pressure upon gay men or lesbian women often comes from their own family. With family pressure to get married there are mainly two alternatives — either gays and lesbians decide to get married just to please the family or they run away from them.[3] Another difference in homosexual life in Indonesia compared to their western counterparts is gays' and lesbis' commitment to heterosexual marriage; the vast majority of the gay men either planned to marry women or were married already.[10]

Legal rights[edit]

The national criminal code does not prohibit private, non-commercial homosexual relations between consenting adults who have reached the age of eighteen years of age.

A national bill to criminalize homosexuality, along with cohabitation, adultery and the practice of witchcraft, failed to be enacted in 2003 and no subsequent bill has been reintroduced.[20] However, local governments have been given the option of passing local laws based on traditional Islamic morality.

In 2002, the Indonesian Government gave Aceh province the right to introduce Islamic sharia laws which criminalizes homosexuality, albeit only to Muslim residents. In September 2014, Aceh had passed a sharia-based anti-homosexuality law that punishes anyone caught having gay sex with 100 lashes. The law has been enforced by the end of 2015.[2]

Indonesian same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for any of the legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples. The importance in Indonesia for social harmony leads to duties rather than rights to be emphasized, which means that human rights along with homosexual rights are very fragile.[21] Yet, the LGBT community in Indonesia has steadily become more visible and politically active.[21]

Indonesian law does not criminalize homosexuality, if it done in private, non-commercial, and among consenting adults. However, Indonesian law does not recognize gay marriage, civil unions or domestic partnership benefits. Same-sex couples are not eligible to adopt a child in Indonesia. Only married couples consisting of a husband and a wife can adopt.[22] Today, there is no law exists to protect Indonesia citizens from discrimination or harassment on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hera Diani (16 April 2010). "Being Gay, Muslim and Indonesian". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Gayatri Suroyo and Charlotte Greenfield (27 December 2014). "Strict sharia forces gays into hiding in Indonesia's Aceh". reuters. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d Gollmer, Anggatira (2 March 2011). "It's OK to be gay in Indonesia so long as you keep it quiet". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  4. ^ Harvey, Rachel (15 January 2004). "Indonesia embraces first gay screen kiss". BBC. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  5. ^ "Homophobia on the rise, survey says". The Jakarta Post. October 22, 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Alisa Tang (8 March 2016). "Under attack, Indonesian LGBT groups set up safehouses, live in fear". Reuters. 
  7. ^ a b c Liza Yosephine. "A portrait of a gay Indonesian". The Jakarta Post. 
  8. ^ Safrin La Batu (February 20, 2016). "Saiful case intensifies LGBT debate". The Jakarta Post. Jakarta. 
  9. ^ "Serat Centhini, Sexualitas Maskulin dalam Budaya Jawa" (in Indonesian). LGBT Indonesia. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Book Reviews: The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia by Tom Boellsdorff". Political Review Net. 2 April 2007. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  11. ^ Laurent, Erick (May 2001). "Sexuality and Human Rights". Journal of Homosexuality. Routledge. 40 (3&4): 163–225. doi:10.1300/J082v48n03_09. ISSN 0091-8369. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Indonesia: Gays Fight Sharia Laws, Doug Ireland]
  14. ^ Yogyakarta Principles
  15. ^ Earth Times. Conservative Indonesian Muslims break up gay meeting. 26 March 2010
  16. ^ http://www.insideindonesia.org/weekly-articles/sulawesis-fifth-gender
  17. ^ Dédé Oetomo Talks on Reyog Ponorogo
  18. ^ Gregorius Magnus Finesso (July 3, 2012). "Pengabdian Dariah, Lengger Lanang Terakhir" (in Indonesian). Kompas.com. Retrieved May 22, 2014. 
  19. ^ Herdt, Gilbert H. (1984). Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. University of California. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  20. ^ Indonesia Seeks to Imprison Gays, 365Gay.com, 30 September 2003
  21. ^ a b Offord, Baden; Cantrell, Leon (May 2001). "Homosexual Rights as Human Rights in Indonesia and Australia". Journal of Homosexuality. Routledge. 40 (3&4): 233–252. doi:10.1300/J082v40n03_12. ISSN 0091-8369. 
  22. ^ http://www.sayapibujakarta.org/ind/adopsi.html